There's an old axiom out West that says a cow has to pay her own way — or she gets a free ride on the next truck to town. That's the approach Padlock Ranch CEO Wayne Fahsholtz is taking with animal ID. His aim is to keep the process of cow ID simple — with a market-driven strategy.

“We came to the conclusion that a system of individual ID and source verification is the right thing to do for this ranch — and for the American beef industry,” Fahsholtz of Dayton, WY, says. “It won't be long before our customers, both direct and indirect, will demand source-verified cattle and beef.”

Fahsholtz hopes a national animal ID system stays voluntary, but he's convinced there will be a time soon when producers who source-verify will have a leg up on the markets. On the sprawling Padlock Ranch, which straddles portions of northern Wyoming and southern Montana, ID will become an essential tool for marketing calves and replacement females.

Padlock crews are moving to put radio-frequency ID (RFID) ear tags on the 12,000 cows and heifers the outfit is running this fall. That will allow Fahsholtz to begin building cow performance records, which he believes will pay off when it comes to selling calves and replacement females. He doesn't plan to individually ID the calves from the cows at this point.

“Right now it's pretty tough for a range operation of any size to tie the calf ID to the cow,” he says. “There are guys doing it but, for us, mothering-up calves and getting them tagged to match the cow is our biggest challenge.”

Documenting inventory

Fahsholtz is working with IMI Global, Platte City, MO, a supplier of cattle-tracking software and ID databases. The cost for tags and tagging is about $2.25/head. IMI charges a monthly software fee based on level of service. He's planning a Web page customers can access online to view performance data on certain sets of animals offered for sale.

Padlock cowboys will be asked to turn in “inventory reports” each week from their bases at the ranch's various units. The reports will document observations on the cows they're responsible for running. The reports, based on visual ID numbers will include the number of dead animals, those with bad teats or other physical problems, and those with poor performing calves, as well as any remarks about a cow.

“It's really no different for the cowboys than what they might write in their pocket books,” Fahsholtz explains. “With this system we'll have this information at our fingertips so we can put it together in a way that's useful to our customers.”

Fahsholtz plans to have handheld RFID readers and laptop computers onsite during herd work. Padlock also will purchase a set of portable electronic scales to place under its working chutes.

While he's looking at recouping his ID costs through more and better animal performance information, Fahsholtz is also looking down the road to when he might be required to integrate his ID program with a national premises allocation system.

“We should be fully prepared to slide into a premises system if and when the time comes,” he says. He's not sure at this point how many premises he might register, but suggests Padlock might have three premises each in Wyoming and Montana.

Fahsholtz says he isn't worried about privacy issues. “That's why I hope ID stays voluntary,” he explains. “I feel very good about the marketing and production opportunities that individual ID provides. That's enough.”